I recently started reading the daily readings and discussing them each night with my husband. While it started as a Lenten observance and a way to have some sort of intellectual discussion after the kids are in bed rather than just turning on the TV and tuning out, it has truly become a treasured time of prayer for us. Having just had a son who we named Jonah, we have been happily surprised that Jonah has been a recurring theme in the recent readings. In fact, I was shocked when we read the gospel on February 21, because despite having a degree in theology and being a cradle Catholic, I somehow missed that the prophet Jonah is even mentioned in the gospels.
This is what Jesus says: “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.” (Luke 11:29-30)
You see, in the first reading that day, we hear about the prophet Jonah making his way across Nineveh announcing “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed” (Jonah 3:7). That’s it. That is all we are told he says. God was going to destroy their city in forty days. And what did the people do? They put on sackcloth, they repented, and they fasted. Even the King decreed that all the people and beasts of Nineveh would do this, saying “Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish.” And God did relent and Nineveh was spared.
Jonah’s words, simple and harsh as they were, moved the people of Nineveh to repentance and conversion. Their hearts were changed. And that is exactly what Jesus was calling those who were listening to Him in the Gospel above to do. He — the Son of Man — had the power to change their hearts. To change their entire generation. He was their sign.
I often think about if I had lived in Jerusalem during this time and met Jesus. Would I have recognized Him as the Messiah? Would I have seen the sign? Would His words have touched my heart so much that I would have repented and been changed?
I think at times we take for granted that we are Christian. I haven’t known anything else my whole life; my parents were Catholic and their parents were Catholic and their parents too. I am so grateful that I was brought up in the faith and that I knew and loved Jesus from an early age. But I am blessed to have 2000 years of Truth, passed down by the Church and the great saints throughout history. What if Truth was standing right in front of me? Would I have believed Him? Would I have repented and been changed and followed Him?
As we continue in this season of Lent, I hope we come to understand the purpose of these forty days of repentance more fully. Jonah gave Nineveh forty days to be changed. Jesus and the Church have extended us the same offer. Our sign has already come. Jesus Christ wants to speak to our hearts and save our generation. Will we let Him?
This blog was written by Danielle Milliken, Coordinator of Digital Media & Communications here at St. Francis of Assisi. If you’re interested in writing a blog for St. Francis of Assisi, please contact Joseph at [email protected].